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Focus on First Year: BSC 101—Entry to the Liberal Arts

When first-year students take BSC 101: Foundations of Inquiry, they experience their first taste of a liberal arts education at Buffalo State College. But the faculty who teach the course are learning just as much.

Thirty-five professors taught 41 sections of BSC 101 last fall. And according to Douglas Koritz, assistant dean of intellectual foundations, as many as 50 sections could be needed this fall. He said that most faculty are enthusiastic about teaching the class.

Since BSC 101 became mandatory in fall 2006, student survey responses have continued to improve, and many students comment on how much they learn.

“Students say that through BSC 101, they discover what higher education is all about,” Koritz said. “It improves their intellectual self-confidence. But the course feeds the intellect of the faculty as well as the students.”

“I see BSC 101 as playing an important role as a beginning step in the liberal arts educational process,” said Howard Reid, professor of psychology. The long-tenured faculty member has taught multiple BSC 101 themes over the years, including global warming and Greek myths.

Anthony Hotchkiss, another long-tenured faculty member and professor of technology, has taught sections of BSC 101 since its inception. Like Reid, he teaches a topic unrelated to his central discipline, a section called “Citizenship, Politics, and Religion.”

Hotchkiss particularly likes to see his students gain valuable research skills. Like all students in BSC 101, they must prepare an argument construction, argument analysis, and annotated bibliography as major course projects.

“We focus quite a bit on finding research sources that are credible and peer-reviewed,” Hotchkiss said. “I think the essential part to critical thinking is the understanding that there are at least two sides to every question. Students may have their own positions on issues, but they have to know arguments and defend their choices. I enjoy kicking out the naiveté and getting them to think.”

Kelly Frothingham, associate professor of geography and planning, has routinely taught a BSC 101 section on global warming. She finds the format of BSC 101 different from her other classes.

“It’s invigorating to be out of my comfort zone in terms of how I teach,” Frothingham said. “In my section, I link the topic to critical thinking and the liberal arts by encouraging students to think about the fact that global warming is not just a natural science problem. I also incorporate a lot of group work, which works very well.”

There are ways to make each section unique, but Koritz said all sections use the same book, Foundations of Inquiry, as a starting point. He encourages faculty who have never taught BSC 101 to consider attending the Summer Pedagogical Institute and developing a section for fall 2010.

“BSC 101 is more rigorous than faculty might think, but it’s highly rewarding,” Koritz said. “And through BSC 101 faculty meetings that happen once or twice a semester, they can learn from each other’s creativity and research.”

Javier Peñalosa, associate professor emeritus of biology, decided to try teaching a section of BSC 101 in his last semester before retirement in 2007.

“This was a great way to leave Buffalo State,” he said. “More faculty should try teaching it. We ask students to take try new things, so why not ask ourselves as well?”

Koritz is pleased not only with the improved student surveys but also with the fact that other SUNY schools are beginning to adopt a similar class format. He hopes faculty support on campus will continue to grow.

“Buffalo State was part of the trendsetters and early adopters when we started,” Koritz said, “particularly for public schools. Classes like BSC 101 are becoming the norm now.”

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Read previous Focus on First Year stories:

‘Be a Hero, Be a Teacher’ Learning Community
Foundations of Inquiry
‘Naked America’ Learning Community